Measurements of reactive trace gases and variable O3 formation rates in some South Carolina biomass burning plumes

S. K. Akagi, R. J. Yokelson, I. R. Burling, S. Meinardi, I. Simpson, D. R. Blake, G. R. McMeeking, A. Sullivan, T. Lee, S. Kreidenweis, S. Urbanski, J. Reardon, D. W.T. Griffith, T. J. Johnson, D. R. Weise

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In October-November 2011 we measured trace gas emission factors from seven prescribed fires in South Carolina (SC), US, using two Fourier transform infrared spectrometer (FTIR) systems and whole air sampling (WAS) into canisters followed by gas-chromatographic analysis. A total of 97 trace gas species were quantified from both airborne and ground-based sampling platforms, making this one of the most detailed field studies of fire emissions to date. The measurements include the first emission factors for a suite of monoterpenes produced by heating vegetative fuels during field fires. The first quantitative FTIR observations of limonene in smoke are reported along with an expanded suite of monoterpenes measured by WAS including α-pinene, β-pinene, limonene, camphene, 4-carene, and myrcene. The known chemistry of the monoterpenes and their measured abundance of 0.4-27.9% of non-methane organic compounds (NMOCs) and ∼ 21% of organic aerosol (mass basis) suggests that they impacted secondary formation of ozone (O3), aerosols, and small organic trace gases such as methanol and formaldehyde in the sampled plumes in the first few hours after emission. The variability in the initial terpene emissions in the SC fire plumes was high and, in general, the speciation of the initially emitted gas-phase NMOCs was 13-195% different from that observed in a similar study in nominally similar pine forests in North Carolina ∼ 20 months earlier. It is likely that differences in stand structure and environmental conditions contributed to the high variability observed within and between these studies. Similar factors may explain much of the variability in initial emissions in the literature. The δHCN/δCO emission ratio, however, was found to be fairly consistent with previous airborne fire measurements in other coniferous-dominated ecosystems, with the mean for these studies being 0.90 ± 0.06%, further confirming the value of HCN as a biomass burning tracer. The SC results also support an earlier finding that C3-C4 alkynes may be of use as biomass burning indicators on the time-scale of hours to a day. It was possible to measure the downwind chemical evolution of the plume on four of the fires and significant O3 formation (δO3/δCO from 10-90%) occurred in all of these plumes within two hours. The slowest O3 production was observed on a cloudy day with low co-emission of NOx. The fastest O3 production was observed on a sunny day when the downwind plume almost certainly incorporated significant additional NOx by passing over the Columbia, SC metropolitan area. Due to rapid plume dilution, it was only possible to acquire high-quality downwind data for two other trace gas species (formaldehyde and methanol) during two of the fires. In all four of these cases, significant increases in formaldehyde and methanol were observed in <2 h. This is likely the first direct observation of post-emission methanol production in biomass burning plumes. Post-emission production of methanol does not always happen in young biomass burning plumes, and its occurrence in this study could have involved terpene precursors to a significant extent.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1141-1165
Number of pages25
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013


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